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Civil War mail PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, June 01, 2013 12:16 AM

In my last article we started talking about the Confederate Mail System. If you recall, I indicated that both sides tried to make things difficult for the other in getting mail across the distinct borders. Ironically, the way much of the mail was transported from back and forth was through the exchange of prisoners of war. This system was necessary because of the vast numbers of prisoners and the shortage of places to hold them. The prisoner of war mail exchange went on until June 1863. At that point the tensions were very high and there was a mutual mistrust. In previous articles I wrote about manuscript postmarks and stampless covers. Pieces of mail from the various military prisons are quite rare and are a much sought after commodity.

There is so much information that can be learned from looking at one of these covers. The dates, names and addresses to and from as well as the postmarks and other postal markings served as a living record and historians are able to put together timelines and can verify places and events based on these same markings. Most of the prisons did not have any formal postal system and postmarks were usually from the nearest town. Thus historians are able to determine town names, and locations of prisons and the volumes of people held in captivity. All of this is vital to the study of Civil War Military Postal History.

If you have taken a tour of our museum you would certainly learn about franking privileges. Dignitaries and people of prominence were allowed to send mail without the payment of postage. In the Confederacy, franking privileges existed only until March of 1861 when PMG Regan removed that privilege. The only ones that retained the right of franking was the PMG and a few of his department heads. Otherwise it required postage. Even letters from the War Department of the Confederate States of America required postage.

I continue to talk about the mission of the mail to “bind the nation together”. Families were torn apart while sometimes brothers and other family members might be serving on both sides of the war. This war was no different from any other war in that receiving mail from those serving in the military was just the lift that families needed in knowing their loved ones were still alive. Many of these letters show how the soldiers begged for those back home to write more often. There isn’t a military veteran that doesn’t get a chill just reading or hearing the words “Mail Call.”

That “binding” included the need to understand how life was being described and recorded by those on and off the battlefield. I believe that the television show “MASH 4077” portrayed mail service in exactly the right light. Remember the episodes of spouses or loved ones sending Dear John letters. One episode that will remain with me was when Radar was sent home and BJ’s wife and daughter Erin met him when he landed in California. Erin had never seen her father and called Radar, “Daddy.” BJs wife thought it was cute and wrote about it in a letter. The jealousy and frustration of being so far away from family tore BJ apart.

It has been said that when the mothers, wives and girlfriends of the Civil War military were responsible for the beginning of city delivery which began in Cleveland, Ohio. Supposedly these people would wait at the post office waiting for mail and this disrupted operations. The Postmaster told everyone to go home and they would see that the mail was delivered.

Besides the prisoner exchanges, mail was also handled by Blockade Runners. The Union had used its vast fleet of ships to line the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico in areas that bordered Confederate states. Thousands of attempts were made by vessels that carried supplies and mail from Europe and the Caribbean Islands. They would travel at night and try to elude or outrun Union ships. It is said that about 80 percent of the attempts were successful. Since there was a clear passage of mail between the Union and these same nations, although it might be a much slower system, it did prove to be more reliable.

As a note we are starting to receive several inquiries about our trip to Monticello and Williamsburg. I will be in both of those cities in two weeks making the final preparations for our trip. Even if you have been to these areas before (this will be my 10th trip there), we have activities and entertainment scheduled that you have never seen before. Call me about our six-day/five-night tour leaving from Delphos on Sept. 28. Be sure to call me for more information; time is running short. Final counts and payments are due no later than June 29: Gary Levitt 419-303-5482.

 

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